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Cosmetic Packaging Strategies

Cosmetics are all about good looks. That goes for their packaging, too--but only up to a point.

No product segment has to pay more attention to packaging aesthetics than color cosmetics and fragrances. But practical considerations can't be shoved aside. And numerous factors--including pressure to cut costs, the need for better product protection and the availability of high-performance alternative materials--are making practical concerns more prominent than ever.

Color cosmetics constitute a $7.8 billion market in the U.S. But the economic slowdown as been as unkind to cosmetics as to other consumer goods. Sales of color cosmetics enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 6.1% from 1997 to 2002, but market analyst Euromonitor International projects a growth rate of only 1.4% through 2007.

Plastic Packaging Techniques
In response, cosmetics manufacturers are adopting various strategies to cut costs. One of these is the use of plastic over glass--a substitution that can bring other benefits besides economy. Function and cost is what drives the conversion from glass to plastic. If there was one trend in terms of those things that were in glass before, it's going to plastic because it allows function that was never there in glass. Plastic has another advantage over glass: Color. The options literally run the gamut of the rainbow with plastic, whereas color choices with glass are more limited--and in general, a colored glass container must be run in much higher volume than plastic.

Plastic is just about the only material that offers this kind of color versatility. But some cosmetics marketers maintain that for certain applications, especially fragrances, nothing but glass will do. But, you can't create a plastic bottle that is as beautiful as a glass bottle. Some companies are starting to use plastics for fragrances, but it just doesn't look the same. With fragrances, aesthetics often outweigh practical considerations, which helps make glass a popular choice. Fragrances usually are not intended to be portable, which removes weight considerations, and are not often used in the bathroom, which reduces the importance of shatter resistance.

Cutting Cost for Glass
But cutting costs is important for glass applications, too. Even marketers of high-end fragrances often wind up adopting cost-reduction strategies. A bottle is less expensive when it has a less complicated design and lighter weight--something that has to be decided at the early stages of design. While glass prevails for fragrance bottles, their closures are being made increasingly out of plastic, which represents a more economical alternative to metal. Plastics must have certain properties before they can be used for fragrance packaging.

Material Savings
Cosmetic Plastic Packaging Substituting less costly materials is a time-honored strategy for reducing expenses. For example, Mary Kay had been using a palladium-coated closure for its Journey cologne. As a cost-savings measure, Mary Kay recently switched to white bronze. You can't tell the difference unless you really look at it hard. According to the experts, Substitution works best for established products that have built up a base.

The use of stock containers, as opposed to custom, is another cost-reduction strategy.

Of course, cosmetics packagers have practical concerns besides cost. Physical protection is an increasingly important factor. Many cosmetics offer hydrating benefits by using higher proportions of water in the formulation; for such products, airtight packaging is vital.

A number of lipsticks, especially ones with silicone-based formulations, require added moisture protection, says Tom Holloway. That might have to be accomplished with an additional component such as a round polypropylene seal underneath a square cap. For other products, such as mascara, added moisture protection might take the form of thicker bottle walls. A typical mascara bottle might have walls 0.035-inch wide; a water-rich formulation could require walls as thick as 0.07-inch. Doubling the thickness slows down bottle production and constricts the design.

The balance between aesthetics and practical concerns is perhaps more delicate for cosmetics than for any other consumer products. But a soundly conceived design strategy with the right materials can strike that balance in a way that will greatly increase consumer appeal.

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